THEY came, they saw . . . and they drank copious quantities of beer at the Pearl World Conkers Championship at the Chequered Skipper in Ashton, near Oundle, last weekend. The winner, Jimmy Marsh, had been down to his last half-conker before demolishing Bob Jenner's nut in the final. He attributed his success to a well- judged side-swipe, but John Hadman, the principal organiser, was less convinced.

'There's an element of skill to it,' he explained, 'but I'd say it's about 80 per cent luck.' The trouble is that a powerful direct hit is as likely to destroy your own conker as your opponent's.

For those who take conkers seriously, the game has its own vocabulary of technical terms. The loser may shed tears over his crackets - the broken bits of conker littering the lawn - while the winner takes pride in his cobbling - the equivalent of a googly, with a left-hand swing that takes you by surprise.

A first swing demolition - the conkerer's hole-in-one - is a super- cracket and, at the other extreme, we have the frittish, a gentle touch that does no more than shake the enemy conker. These become important in a penalty shoot-out: any contest undecided after five minutes is resolved by allowing each player a set number of swipes and deciding the match on hits.

The Ashton Conker Club now intends to apply for Olympic recognition. 'We'll be first in line,' said Mr Hadman, 'if they ever institute an Autumn Olympics.'

For entry forms and a conkers information pack, send an sae to: John Hadman, 22 New Road, Oundle, Peterborough PE8 4LB.

(Photograph omitted)